Saturday, July 30, 2011

NJ Left Behind

is taking a week off. I'll be back a week from Monday with all things ed reform in the Garden State.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Newark's Dancing Lemons

Today’s Wall Street Journal looks at the “dance of the lemons” in Newark. Last year Newark Public Schools received a $5 million Federal SIG (School Improvement Grant) to turn around Malcolm X. Shabazz High School. There’s four SIG-approved methods of intervention to reform a failing school: convert to a charter, replace the principal, replace 50% of the staff, or shut the school down and send the kids to other nearby schools. (That’s the quick and dirty version; here’s detail for more inquiring minds.)

So Newark officials elected to use the “replace 50% of the staff” form of intervention for Shabazz High School. But, remember, teacher tenure is inviolable. Therefore, what happened to the 45 teachers who were removed to improve student achievement? According to the Journal, 21 of them went to Barringer High School, which is also a chronically failing school. And what happened to the 21 Barringer teachers who were supplanted by the exodus from Shabazz? Simple. They went to Shabazz. Actually, 68 teachers were rearranged among three of Newark's high schools.

Cami Anderson, Newark’s new superintendent, said that she’s changed policies to discourage swapping, but
because of the state's tenure law, which guarantees a paycheck to teachers regardless of whether any principal wants to retain or hire them, Ms. Anderson's new policy will cost the district an extra $10 million to $15 million a year that will go to paying the teachers who are not able to find jobs within the district.

"In other words, by doing the right thing, we created a massive budget issue," she said. Newark schools have a $900 million budget and employ about 4,000 teachers.
In other SIG news, the Governor’s Office has out a press release on the awarding of $55 million new SIG grants that will be divided among nine failing schools in Newark, Jersey City, East Orange, Paterson, Camden and Lakewood. On the list is none other than Barringer High School, the recipient of 21 of Shabazz’s rejects. But that’s okay: Barringer is choosing the model of intervention where you replace the principal, not the staff. The principals will dance this time, not the teachers.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Quote of the Day

In The Lobby notes Gov. Christie’s lack of “anti-union rhetoric” at his education speech in Iowa and speculates that the “very public divorce” between Senator Steve Sweeney and the Governor is “much ado about nothing.” Legislative bills that address merit pay and tenure reform and the Opportunity Scholarship Act are not on “life support,” as claimed, but only waiting til after the November elections. At that point, “faster than you can say Marcus Welby,” Sen. Sweeney will call for votes on bills antithetical to NJEA's agenda:
Make no mistake: when the union opposes tenure reform, or opportunity scholarships, they are opposing that 8-year-old child, and choosing their power, over a child’s future.

But that’s not the only mistake the union has made.

For whatever uncertainty there was about education reform ended the day the NJEA went on its kamikaze mission, first trying to take out Lesniak, and failing.

And then they doubled down on that failure and targeted Norcross.

Who never forgets.

You would think that the NJEA would have realized this tactic didn’t work when it didn’t work against Christie.
And lost.

But the NJEA isn’t used to losing.

And they will not be ignored.

But wait until the lame duck.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Searching For Consistency in the Charter School Wars

Both NJ Spotlight and PolitickerNJ are reporting on Gov. Christie’s speech at the Iowa Education Summit hosted by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad. According to Spotlight,
[Christie] promoted the idea of charter schools, but added they may not be the answer in all school districts, a clear response to the suburban backlash that has been felt in New Jersey.
"They are not needed in every district in New Jersey and wouldn’t add much to the education offered there," he said.
The "suburban backlash" alluded to is spearheaded by the group Save Our Schools-NJ, which is lobbying for a set of charter school bills that would subject any new charter to a community vote, require every child in surrounding districts to be entered into a lottery, regardless of interest, and severely curtail the growth of new charters. SOS-NJ makes a number of fair points: some charter schools tend to accept fewer kids with disabilities and fewer kids who are English Language Learners. They “cream off” high-achieving students and are a money suck for local districts who pay tuition and must educate anyone who walks in the door.

Now let’s look at a non-traditional public school in Hackensack that hasn’t gotten SOS-NJ’s attention. Here’s some clues: it’s one of the best high schools in the State, named by Newsweek as one of the best in the country. It’s got test scores to die for. At this school it’s not a matter of whether anyone fails the High School Proficiency Assessment; it’s a matter of whether or not anyone doesn’t score “advanced proficient." The curriculum offers 21 A.P. courses and 75.7% of juniors and seniors participate. In addition, it offers the rigorous International Baccalaureate program. Average SAT scores are 712 in math and 660 in verbal. To put that in context, NJ’s average for districts with similar socio-economics is 524 in math and 506 in verbal.

The percentage of kids eligible for special education services in our mystery school is 1.2%. New Jersey’s average is 14.69%. The percentage of English Language Learners is 0.4% while at Hackensack High for example, 7.3% of kids are ELL. The school day here is 8 hours long, an hour and a half longer than NJ’s average school day. There are no African-American or Hispanic kids; according to NCLB data, the whole school is White and Asian. (Hackensack High's population is largely African-American and Hispanic.) None are economically-disadvantaged. (At Hackensack High about 45% are.)

Answer: it’s Bergen Academies in Hackensack, a part of the Bergen County vo-tech system, although 95.4% of kids there go on to 4-year colleges and only 34 out of 1000+ kids take any vo-tech courses. It’s publicly funded, of course, at a total cost per pupil of $26,788 per year. (The average cost per pupil across the state is $17,332.) There’s no lottery. Instead there’s a rigorous admissions process that includes transcripts, standardized test scores, and references from three teachers. There’s also an entrance exam. If you get through the first screening you are invited in for an interview. Visual Arts applicants submit portfolios and Performing Arts applicants schedule an audition. The website for the school warns students that “[e]ach year, there are many more applicants than there are places for students in our schools.”

It’s a wonderful place, full of intellectual exploration and smart, motivated kids and, by definition, exclusive. And it’s a public school, funded by county and state tax dollars. There’s a 5-member School Board appointed by the County Executive and confirmed by the County Freeholders, and a Superintendent (formerly Robert Aloia, well-known for his annual salary of 250,845, his deferred compensation package of $300K, and numerous instances of excessive spending) though the Assistant Super has now taken over).

No lottery. A big financial burden surrounding traditional districts. (Hackensack City Public Schools budget lists $7,652,944 in annual tuition payments, though not all of that is Bergen Academies.) Stringent admissions criteria that “cream off” top students.

Here’s a game. Replace “charter schools” in this section from SOS-NJ’s website with “County magnet schools.”
NJ charter school students do not represent the demographics of their sending districts. Charter schools educate very few English as a second language students, students who qualify for free lunch, or students with special needs. Each of these groups is more expensive to educate than the general population. Since charter schools reduce the resources that a district has to educate its students, districts with charter schools are left with fewer resources to meet the needs of a population of students that is more expensive to educate
Same difference, right?

I’m not advocating that Bergen Academies close its doors. Indeed, it would be great if every county had such a fine academic institution. (There’s great variability across counties: some are truly vo-tech schools, with emphasis on trades like landscaping, cosmetology, auto mechanics. Some, in wealthier counties are more along the lines of Bergen’s fine school.) But I am wondering how SOS-NJ squares its opposition to charter schools – which have far higher percentages of special ed kids and ELL, far more diversity, far more open admissions policies – with its silence on a set of schools in NJ that seem to reflect everything the group opposes.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Elizabethean Corruption

Check out the Star-Ledger’s expose on corruption within the Elizabeth Public Schools District. Elizabeth has a sordid reputation for nepotism (see this earlier post), and valuing politics over integrity. There’s multiple reports of staff members coerced into making campaign contributions and “volunteering” for political campaigns. Now, after a threat of litigation by the Star-Ledger, the Elizabeth School Board has released records that show that over the last five years it paid out at least $1.5 million in settlements to teachers and spent more on lawyers than any other district in the State. (Grand total: $5.6 million.) Settlements were approved behind closed doors, which is a violation of state law..

In one example of many, Juan Tenreiro was hired as Elizabeth’s custodial supervisor. Reports the Ledger,
In his lawsuit, Tenreiro said he was hired by [former Board President Rafael] Fajardo in 2007, despite the fact he did not have a boiler license — which he said was a prerequisite of the job — and claimed he was forced to spend most of the day "engaging in political activity to assist Fajardo’s political cause." When he raised questions, he claimed Fajardo told him, "Don’t worry about it. We have control of the union. We protect people that protect us."
Question: Board presidents, or any single board member, for that matter, have no power to hire anyone. The way it works is that the district Superintendent recommends personnel for individual positions and the Board votes yea or nay. Where was the Elizabeth Superintendent Pablo Munoz during this episode of hiring an unqualified staff member at the whim of a board member? For an annual salary of $257,084 it's not unreasonable to expect a little more backbone.

Anyway, for a sense of Elizabeth's sentiments check out this page on the district's website entitled, "Saying Goodbye to a Beloved Board Member Rafael Fajardo." To a soundtrack of Mariah Carey crooning "There's a hero if you look inside your heart" and then Frank Sinatra's "I Did it My Way," the Elizabeth School District salutes the leader of their rat pack.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Leftovers

The Trenton School Board is still trying to use its $10 million in additional state aid to save the jobs of 129 custodians instead of, say, using the money for instruction. Is a school board’s responsibility limited to school children or does it encompass the entire community, including adults who get paychecks for maintaining the buildings? The attorney for the unionized workers thanked the Board for their courage and suggested the the State Fiscal Monitor, who disapproves of the Board's direction, "should learn from them that urban communities and school districts exist for reasons other than transferring public money to private corporations.” (Trenton Times.)

The Star-Ledger reports that “only a sliver of the state’s roughly 600 school districts” will use their additional aid for “property tax relief.” A somewhat misleading lede: districts’ budgets were struck months ago and reopening them is complicated. Many will use the money for tax relief, but next year, not this year.

Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney told the Asbury Park Press that education reform should be one of the next big things on the Statehouse agenda, specifically changing the teacher tenure system and expanding charter schools.

Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone is teaming up with NJ to start a comparable program in Paterson called Promise Academies. The Academies will comprise a menu of wrap-around services for poor families, including prenatal care, high-quality daycare, health clinics, and charter schools. (NJ Spotlight, The Record, and Star-Ledger.)

From The Record: "A GOP state Assembly candidate has called for the ouster of Paterson school Superintendent Donnie W. Evans, alleging that he is running a "job mill" for Passaic County Democrats."

Here’s the new school board background check procedures, courtesy of NJ School Boards Association.

NJ Spotlight looks at a report from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, which monitors states’ special ed programs. NJ got a “needs assistance” in two categories but met requirements for the other 18.

The National Council on Teacher Quality has released a new report on the portion of teacher training called student teaching. Overall, programs across the country fall short, primarily in the quality of mentors. Three NJ education schools were rated: Montclair State and NJ City University received grades of “Weak” and Caldwell College was rated “Poor.” In other teacher college news, the New York Times looks at a “revolutionary” model for training teachers, the Relay Graduate School for Education.

Rishawn Biddle at The Dropout Nation examines the politics of the NAACP and the AFT, the NYC teachers’ union, and concludes that “the NAACP has made clear that its interests are not aligned with those of black families and a generation of younger African Americans pushing for the reform of public education.”

Friday, July 22, 2011

Trenton Schools Update

There’s lots of discussion regarding the pros and cons of tenure. The Trenton Times describes an instance that highlights the difficulties school districts face in dismissing tenured employees. Rayshaun Davis, a member of one of the Trenton Public Schools unions, the Business-Technical Employees Association, was assigned as a Youth Development Liaison at Trenton Central High in a program designed to “help students avoid teen pregnancy, substance abuse and other pitfalls of at-risk youth.”

Here’s the current contract for the union.

According to his supervisor, Davis stole a master key and had “five closed-door counseling sessions” with an underage student and had “inappropriate contact.” In addition he was charged with “inappropriate sexual advances toward female co-workers” and “creating a climate of sexual hostility.” The School Board fired him.

The union then appealed the termination because, it said, Davis was fired “without due cause.” The School Board appealed that decision, which was uphold by both the Appellate Court and the Commissioner. Davis got all his back pay. It’s unclear whether he’s still employed by the district, though accordingly to the contract he is if he wants to be.

In other Trenton news, the School Board there is still fighting the judgement of both the Fiscal Monitor assigned by the State and its superintendent, Raymond Broach. The district stands to save $6.4 million by outsourcing custodians. The Board vowed to preserve the custodians’ jobs in spite of the savings. When Trenton was informed that the State was upping its aid by $10 million, Broach proposed that the Board continue to employ 27 head custodians and outsource the rest, then use the remainder of the unexpected state aid to hire additional child study teams to work with special education students, expand security, hire 31 special ed teachers, and upgrade technology.

Nope, says the Board. Keep those custodians.

NJ Charter Schools and the Goodness Gap

John Mooney in NJ Spotlight examines the NJ charter school gap between approval of application and opening of brick-and-mortar school. Earlier this year the DOE approved a record-breaking 23 new charter schools but only 7 will be ready to open in September; the rest will get an additional planning year. This implementation gap is inciting some heat, as both sides use it to bevy up arguments that either charter schools should be a piece of the fabric of public education, or that they’re elitist schemes that drain money from the forever shrinking budgets of traditional public schools.

A great example of this debate occurs in the comments appended to the Spotlight piece. While a few others chime in, the main speakers are Julia Sass Rubin, who heads the anti-charter group Save Our Schools-NJ and Kathy Mone, Business Manager of Elysian Charter School in Hoboken.

A few contextual notes: Elysian, which opened its doors in 1997, is a K-8 school with 289 kids as of 2010 (and 210 kids on the waiting list). Regarding performance, on the ASK 3 standardized test in language arts 78% of third graders at Elysian scored either proficient or advanced proficient. At Salvatore R Calabro No. 4, a traditional K-8 in Hoboken with 161 kids, 62.8% of kids test as proficient or advanced proficient. In math by 8th grade the two schools have similar scores. Total comparative cost per pupil at Elysian is $13,614. At Calabro it’s $21,859.

(Amazingly, the DOE database reports that 0% of Calabro’s kids have disabilities. Must be a typo. Elysian says 8% of its kids do. Both schools say 0% of its kids are English Language Learners.)

Back to the comments on the Spotlight article. Ms. Mone explains that reasons for the start-up delays for new charters could be the Corzine Administration’s failure to get federal grant money. In addition, “opponents are successfully using the zoning process to block the use of facilities.” She describes a bill backed by SOS-NJ that would require that every child be entered in a lottery for a slot at a new charter, regardless of whether the parents have any interest, as a “costly bureaucratic nightmare which would divert financial resources that would be better spent directly on educating children.” Regarding the bill that would require a public vote, she writes,
Charter schools do not have the financial resources to run a political campaign against the $740,000 spent annually by NJEA on political campaigns. Many of us took out a personal home equity loan to open our charter schools.
Ms. Rubin counters that “ any logistical issues [related to global lotteries or community elections] are not insurmountable” and graciously praises Elysian’s transparency and accountability, while noting that not all other charters follow suit. She continues,
In truth, this concept of parental choice is a marketing gimmick thought up by those trying to privatize public education. In public goods, there is no individual choice. We all contribute, whether we use the goods or not, and we all get to decide how to allocate those resources.
A “public good” is an economic term of art and implies limitlessness – more users don’t diminish its availability to others – and unfettered access. Air, for example, is a public good: everyone gets to use it and extra breathers don’t diminish its availability. Ms. Rubin defines public education in NJ as a public good because all students get to attend and an increase in students doesn’t diminish its accessibility. In this context, charter schools are a “private good”: there’s limited slots, so some kids are excluded and, therefore, not every kid has access to them. It's not technically the “privatization scheme” that charter opponents often conjure up, with evil hedge fund managers skulking aroundcorners, but technically she’s correct.

But is NJ’s public school system really a “public good?” Part of this economic term includes a sense of non-excludability, i.e., no child can be excluded from access to this public good. And that works within a district. For example, Princeton’s traditional public schools (not picking on Princeton, but that's the example the commentators return to in the Spotlight piece) are a public good to the residents of Princeton. Princeton’s traditional public schools are not a public good to the residents of Trenton (13 miles down Route 1).

And that’s the point. Charter schools – not Hebrew or Mandarin-immersion ones in wealthy suburbs of NJ, but the ones like Elysian which offer an public alternative to district schools – actually serve to augment the public good of education. Kids in Trenton can’t go to Princeton schools, or Princeton Charter School, for that matter. Princeton Public School District – or any elite district – is a private good, at least to the kids in Trenton who are excluded. They have no access. It’s not as available as air. But, ironically, charter schools offer an opportunity to diminish the exclusivity of high-performing suburban districts and move a step closer to education as a public good.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Quote of the Day

Steve Baker, NJEA Spokesman, on the likelihood of the teachers' union supporting Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney:
I don't want to prejudge anything, but I'd agree I'd be very surprised if he got our support.
The Record also reports on NJEA’s decision to halt all contributions to political candidates while it waited to see who would vote against the reform bill that raised public employees’ contributions to health care and pension premiums. Instead, NJEA “spent its members’ dues on a campaign against Governor Christie’s education policies” that was “fronted by a website”

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Online Learning and the Waning of Teacher Unions

It’s hard to get your arms around—not just the number of bills being enacted but the breadth and depth of changes being made. If somebody had asked me in 2010 if I thought states would be doing away with teacher tenure or the Wisconsin union battle [would have happened], I wouldn’t have listed either as something I expected down the pipeline” in 2011.
That’s Jennifer Dounay Zinth, a senior policy analyst at Education Commission of the States in an Edweek piece on the momentum behind education reform in 12 states. Authorities attribute the surprising number of legislated and negotiated changes to an assortment of factors, including the publication of The Widget Effect, which showed that America fails to distinguish between effective and ineffective teachers; the excitement generated by the federal competition Race To The Top; and a growing awareness that our kids underperform on international tests.

How about the economy? Certainly, that’s a factor too as states struggle to strike budgets without bankrupting taxpayers. Ed Muir of the American Federation of Teachers argues, in fact, that all the ed reform-related changes – tenure reform, restrictions on collective bargaining, LIFO (“last in, first out,” or deciding lay-offs solely on seniority) – are driven by money, not educationally-sound improvements. He says, “[t]hey’re trying to dress up disinvestment in the guise of shining reform.”

But why is improving schools and saving money mutually exclusive? Is it possible to spend less and still improve educational outcomes for kids? Or at least allocate funds differently?

For example, in yesterday's Wall Street Journal Terry Moe cites the growing influence of technology on delivering classroom instruction; he describes this “revolution” of online learning as an harbinger of the waning power of teacher unions:
As the cyber revolution comes to American education, it will bring about a massive and cost-saving substitution of technology for labor. That means far fewer teachers (and union members) per student. It also means teachers will be far less concentrated in geographic districts, as those who work online can be anywhere. It'll thus be far more difficult for unions to organize. There will also be much more diversity in educational offerings, and money and jobs will flow out of the (unionized) regular schools into new (nonunion) providers of online options.
The confluence of these forces—plus the shifting political tides among Democrats—will inexorably weaken the unions, sapping them of members, money and power. It will render them less and less able to block reform. The political doors will increasingly swing open to reforms that simply make good sense for children and for society.
Moe notes that American parents generally want their kids to go to school in a specific place with the appropriate social opportunities and predicts that schools of the future will be some sort of hybrid between brick-and-mortar and long-distance learning.

All this will mean, in fact, is that K-12 students will catch up with their instructors. This past December Bruce Baker of Rutgers and School Finance 101 examined which universities are teachers' top choices for earning masters degrees in education. According to his data, in 2009 the most popular schools in the U.S. were Walden University, University of Phoenix-Online Campus, and Grand Canyon University. All three are online universities. (Dr. Baker links the growth of online degree-granting programs to the perception of the "decline in the quality of the teacher workforce,"but that's another matter.)

Teachers are already voting with their feet (or laptops). Their students won't be far behind.

Glenn Beck Award*

NJ State Senator Gerald Cardinale (R) explains why he opposes funding of NJ After 3, which provides afterschool programming to impoverished children in NJ’s poorest cities:
I don't object to the program, I object to people being employed in the program through the political system. My point is if it's a valid program, (urban taxpayers) should pay for it yourselves. Some of these Abbott School districts are allowed to spend $30,000 per child of other people's money. If these are good programs they should pay for them.
*Award from NJ Left Behind in honor of Mr. Glenn Beck of Fox News whom Jon Stewart describes as "a guy who says what people who aren't thinking are thinking."

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Waning of Teacher Unions and the Growth of Technology

Terry Moe, author of the new book "Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America's Public Schools," writes in today’s Wall St. Journal that “this has been a horrible year for teachers unions, “ but they still “remain the pre-eminent power in American education.” That power, he predicts, is short-lived because
they are losing their grip on the Democratic base. With many urban schools abysmally bad and staying that way, advocates for the disadvantaged are demanding real reform and aren't afraid to criticize unions for obstructing it. Moderates and liberals in the media and even in Hollywood regularly excoriate unions for putting job interests ahead of children. Then there's Race to the Top—initiated over union protests by a Democratic president who wants real reform. This ferment within the party will only grow in the future.

Then there's a crucial dynamic outside of politics: the revolution in information technology. This tsunami is only now beginning to swell, and it will hit the American education system with full force over the next few decades. The teachers unions are trying to stop it, but it is much bigger than they are.

"Gov. Big Stick, Meet the Velvet Glove"

That's my new column at NJ Spotlight. Check it out. As we approach the one-year anniversary of the federal competition Race To The Top, it's useful to look at NJ's dramatic loss in the light of two approaches to meaningful education reform: collaboration with teacher unions or legislative edict. My conclusions may surprise you.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Leftovers

Fifty-four NJ schools had a suspicious number of standardized test questions changed from wrong to right answers, reports the Courier-Post. At Ocean Grove Elementary School in Point Pleasant erasures were 72% higher than normal, and at Cedar Grove Elementary in Toms River erasures were 77% above normal. The NJ DOE “fought to keep the details of the reports secret,” but the Asbury Park Press and NJ Press Media sued to have the details released.

In spite of Newark Public Schools’ good performance in the State’s QSAC monitoring process, it will remain under state control “indefinitely.” Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf explained that the district’s "unacceptably low graduation rate (55 percent) and the troublesome percentages of students not proficient in math (51.8 percent) or language arts (57.5 percent) as reasons he cannot initiate even partial withdrawal from state control.” (Star-Ledger)

FBI agents continue their investigation of corruption in Toms River Public Schools. The new target is the district’s former engineer, Pravin H. Patel, whose firm was paid more than $9 million over the last decade by the school district.

Tom Vander Ark, a big macher in the integration of technology and education, isn’t going to open a planned charter school in Newark, reports the Star-Ledger and the New York Times.

In today’s NY Times Winnie Hu examines the controversies surrounding “boutique” charter schools, particularly two proposed Mandarin-immersion schools in Milburn and Princeton.

The Trenton Times reports that Trenton’s Foundation Academy Charter School, currently serving kids in grades 5-8, will expand to high school level in September. One of its co-founders, Ronald Brady, explains, “I think the reason we’ve been successful is we’ve had a detailed and clear plan and we’ve followed the model of other highly successful schools such as North Star Academy in Newark and the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) schools nationwide.”

As the 10th anniversary of September 11th approaches, NJ Spotlight and the Courier-Post look at NJ’s new 9/11 curriculum.

The NJ DOE, reports The Record, has received approval to use FBI criminal history databases to do background checks on school board members.

The Philadelphia Inquirer profiles a brave teacher who also happens to be an NJ Assemblywoman: Celeste Riley of Cumberland County. She voted to approve the compromise pension/health benefits contributions reform despite getting a "robo-call at home from the NJEA urging her to call her office and tell herself to vote "no."

EdWeek looks at problems states are encountering in implementing their winning Race To The Top plans.

In Time Magazine, Andy Rotherham recommends 7 new education books, including “Sub Culture: Three Years in Education Dustiest Corners” by Carolyn Cucior. The U.S. "spends more than $20 million each school day on substitutes, and your child will spend upwards of a year of their time in school with a sub in front of them. What Bucior reveals about low standards, lower pay, and all manner of craziness will shock you.”

Friday, July 15, 2011

Trenton Values

NJ school districts greeted the news of additional state aid with varying amounts of resentment (not enough) and celebration (Paterson, for example, will see about $80 million additional dollars). Trenton Public Schools gets $10 million more than expected.

According to today’s Trenton Times, the President of the Trenton School Board, Rev. Toby Sanders, wants to use the money to hire back 181 custodians, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, and secretaries. Earlier this year the Board rebelled against the advice of State Fiscal Monitor, Mark Cowell, by voting to maintain those employees instead of privatizing the positions at a substantial savings. Cowell vetoed the vote. Now, says Rev. Sanders,“The board of education has spoken clearly of its desire to keep good, hard-working, tax-paying employees on the payroll.”

But is that really the best use of money for the kids in Trenton? It’s wonderful to have neighbors working in local schools. Does that benefit override the opportunity to, say, lower class size by hiring more teachers? Or update and/or purchase better instructional materials? Or create programming that boosts student achievement?

A spokeswoman for the DOE said, “Regarding Abbott districts, the increased aid to these schools should be directed strategically toward areas of education as determined by each respective district.” Doesn’t sound like hiring local custodians fulfills that mandate.

Fact of the Day

The Atlantic City Press does the numbers on the savings from the newly-legislated health and pension premium contributions for NJ State workers, including teachers:
The new law requiring public workers to contribute more to their pensions will save [Atlantic County] local governments and school boards more than $4 million in the first year, numbers released Thursday by the Governor’s Office show. Statewide, the savings will total $43 million in fiscal 2012 and will reach a projected $43 billion over 30 years.

Quote of the Day

I would ask Speaker Oliver and the rest of Trenton's legislators to remember that in just a few weeks, thousands of New Jersey children will step onto a bus for the first time, beginning their kindergarten or first grade experience in our public education system. In many of our inner city districts, that step will herald the beginning of a forced march through a failed monopoly -- a path of doom from which their parents are powerless to exit. One can debate whether 47 percent or 54 percent of them will emerge without the tools to prepare them for higher education, but whatever it is, the number is more than a compassionate society should bear. The tragedy of this reality is it targets our most vulnerable fellow citizens -- the inner-city families without the resources to move out of their school districts or choose schools more suited to their child’s educational needs.
Norm Alworth, President of E3, urges the passage of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, the voucher bill, in today's NJ Spotlight.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Home Rule Run Amok

The Record’s Charles Stile profiles Senator Gerald Cardinale, Republican from Demerest, whose remarks on the Senator floor this week constituted “a racially tinged attack” which is now “mainstream, GOP orthodoxy.”

According to Stile, when the Senate Democrats tried to override one of Gov. Christie’s vetoes –the one slashing funding for NJ After 3, which provides afterschool programming for poor urban kids -- Cardinale went off:
"If it is so beneficial, why don't you tax your own people to help your own children?" Cardinale protested on the Senate floor, his comments targeting Essex County Democrats who represent Newark. "Why are you taxing people from the 39th District (in Bergen County) and sending that money to other places?"
Home rule has its charms: quaint villages with distinctive personalities, a sense of belonging. Senator Cardinale demonstrates the ugly side of home rule: its provincialism, its xenophobia, and, yes, its racism. Hard to go from there to Stile's more general condemnation of Senate Republicans, but at least one of them should hand Cardinale a muzzle.

Hope for Ed Reform Bills?

Senator President Steve Sweeney is still telling Gov. Christie to talk to the hand as he attempts to assuage Democrats who are furious over his complicity in the passage of the health/pension contributions reform bill. Much has been made over Sweeney’s declaration that he won’t post two education reform bills much favored by the Governor and Ed Commish Cerf: one that institutes merit pay for teachers, and another that overturns the use of seniority when determining lay-offs.

However, In The Lobby notes that “Sweeney left the big items – tenure reform and school vouchers – on the table.” (Assembly Speaker Oliver seems committed to derailing the voucher bill, so the Senator’s support may be superfluous.) And today’s Press of Atlantic City says that Sweeney remarked that “tenure reform is needed” and that he’s waiting on Senator Teresa Ruiz’s bill, long in the works.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"Dramatic Reorganization" of the NJ Department of Education

Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf held a press briefing this afternoon. He announced:
  • A “dramatic reorganization” of the Department of Education. The new structure will be built around four new positions: Chief Academic Officer, Chief Performance Officer, Chief Talent Officer, and Chief Innovation Officer. In all, the State Board approved 16 senior positions; 12 will be promotions from within and 4 will be new hires. Organization chart here.
  • The DOE will move from a compliance-oriented organization to an accountability organization, with an emphasis on serving its core mission – educating kids – instead of issuing mandates.
  • This reorganization “reaffirms that our focus is to dramatically increase the number of kids who are college and career-ready.”
  • There’s a new Delivery Unit, headed by Deputy Commissioner Andy Smarick, which will be responsible for aligning county offices and school support functions.
  • Bari Erlichson, formerly Director of the Office of Education Data, will be the new Performance Officer.
  • Former Education Commissioner David Hespe will be Chief of Staff.
  • The State Board of Education today “relaxed requirements for hiring superintendents…it’s been in the works since early January.” The relaxed requirements will only apply to “districts that are consistently failing.” The impetus behind the change was the search in Newark; the district was precluded from including “very qualified people” in the pool…we shouldn’t let rules or regulations get in the way of our core mission.”
  • Re: Senate President Sweeney’s refusal to allow a vote on a bill allowing merit pay for teachers and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver’s refusal to allow a vote on the Opportunity Scholarship Act: “We’re in political silly season…I believe that Senator Sweeney is committed to education reform.” In regard to merit pay, “I’m in favor of differentiated pay. What I mean is to at least soften the system” so that higher pay is not restricted to additional years served or degrees earned. It’s “an issue without serious, substantive engagement. Let’s give Senator Sweeney a chance to engage in the subject.”
  • On seniority: “We're dealing with a soundbite during a political war.” Right now “a district must be quality blind. It is illegal in this state when you have an absolutely superb teacher as compared to a teacher who is not very good. It is illegal to preserve the job of the superior teacher.” “No one can say this is in the best interests of children.”
  • Pilot Project on Teacher Evaluation: three dozen districts have expressed interest. “I’m extremely satisfied, ecstatic, at the level of interest.”
  • QSAC (the state accountability system for individual school districts) “has been a frequently nightmarish process” that “involves enormous amounts of paper-pushing.” “Are we looking at the right things when we say we want to hold schools accountable?”
  • New state aid numbers: there’s a “strong exhortation” for school districts to use it next year for tax relief. That doesn’t apply to Abbott districts, which will have to reopen their budgets because of the large amount of additional money.

How Education Reform is Like Gay Marriage

There’s been much discussion, in the wake of New York State’s passage of a gay marriage bill, of the shifting views of Americans on this hot topic. A recent CNN poll demonstrated that for the first time a majority of Americans, 51%, support equal marital right for gay couples, a sharp uptick since 2008 when only 44% did. Another poll from Gallup looked at views by age group; for 18-34 year-olds, 70% support gay marriage, 16 points higher than only one year ago.

For many years the argument was dominated by those with strong religious beliefs who firmly opposed same-sex marriage. Politicians were loathe to challenge the Church, dependent on its support. While there’s certainly no shortage of push-back, there’s also an inevitability about the issue. One day we’ll look back and wonder what took us so long.

It's only a matter of time until legislation catches up with consensus. The gay rights movement has successfully (and accurately) couched the issue in terms of civil rights, equity, and equality. There’s a rising corps of leaders in industry and politics, both Democratic and Republican, who believe passionately that bans on gay marriage are relics of an anachronistic paradigm that withholds equal rights to a portion of Americans.

It’s sort of like education reform. For many years Americans regarded our public education system as the best in the world, a paradigm of excellence. However, there’s a growing recognition that we fall short, particularly in urban education where only 8% of poor children finish college by the time they’re 24 years old. Politicians on both sides of the aisle – Daniel Patrick Moynihan (back in 1965), Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Barack Obama – have initiated programs to address our public system’s failures. More and more Americans recognize that a major restructuring is in order, including elements of school choice and accountability, and an emerging corps of leaders are passionately committed to the cause.

For many years the argument has been dominated by those strongly connected to teacher unions, invested in the status quo. Politicians have been loathe to challenge NEA and UFT because they’re dependent on their support. That’s still true, but less so.

Eventually (I’m going out on a limb here) legislation will catch up with consensus because the education reform movement is successfully (and accurately) couching its platform in terms of civil rights, equity, and equality. We’ll look back and wonder why it took us so long to give impoverished children education opportunities formerly available to only those with wealthy parents.

NJ School Districts Get More State Aid

School districts received details yesterday on increases in state aid for the 2011-2012 school year. Star-Ledger coverage here; NJ Spotlight coverage here. Total pot is $850 million, though $447 million is earmarked for Abbott districts, per the State Supreme Court’s ruling that poor urban districts must be fully funded according to the State formula. Both papers have links to district-specific aid numbers.

The Governor’s Office is “strongly urging” non-Abbott districts to use the extra money for property tax relief. However, according Lynn Strickland of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, districts can quickly redraft budgets and submit them by Aug. 15th.

David Sciarra of Education Law Center, primary advocates for Abbott districts, said “it is deeply disappointing that we didn’t get to full funding for all districts. There was broad support in the education community to get that done.” And Steve Wollmer, NJEA spokeman, commented, "Out of that $850 million, almost $500 million was from the court where he fought it tooth and nail. He’s no hero. He did nothing for education funding, except try to gut it."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Quote of the Day

Senate President Steve Sweeney explains it all:
"I've never been a fan of merit pay. I don't believe in it," Sweeney said. "Sometimes when you have merit pay, you have the ability to have favorites. A real hard teacher gets less money than another teacher because he or she is not the favorite

Monday, July 11, 2011

Border Patrol at Montclair High School

How far is it from Newark to Montclair? According to Mapquest it’s a mere 10.72 miles, but that’s where the camaraderie ends. Friday’s Montclair Times describes a new registration procedure at Montclair High School for all current students as well as incoming freshmen:
To establish proof of residency, parents will be required to present a Montclair township property tax bill, mortgage statement or signed contract of purchase; or a signed notarized Sworn Statement of Tenancy (affidavit) completed by their landlord.
Parents will also need to produce any three of the following documents containing a Montclair address including: a driver's license plus registration and auto insurance card; a current utility, cable television or credit card bill; a written statement from realtor stating the parent/guardian has signed a contract to purchase or rent in Montclair; a mortgage statement; a bank statement, or government correspondence from the Internal Revenue Service, state Division of Taxation, or Social Security Administration; public assistance documents from Aid For Dependent Children or Women, Infants and Children program; an income tax return; a voter registration card or unemployment benefits verification; or a recent paycheck stub.
The district's statement reminded parents that only students of families residing in Montclair are eligible to attend the Montclair Public Schools. The district is not participating in the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program created through recent state legislation.
Jeez: it’s like Montclair is Brownsville, Texas, armed school district officials crouching in foxholes, guns aimed at Mexicans desperately seeking sanctuary from drug-plagued Matamoros, just across the Rio Grande. Of course, in this scenario the illegals hail from Newark.

What difference does ten miles make? At both Monclair High School and Barringer High School in Newark, high schoolers have to take the HSPA, the high school proficiency test, in language arts and math. At Montclair, according to the most recent DOE data, 58.7% of kids score “proficient” in language arts and 30.9% score “advanced proficient.” At Barringer 38.7% of kids score proficient, 0% score “advanced proficient;” in fact, 61.3% failed. In math at Montclair 42.5% of kids score “proficient” and 34.8% score “advanced proficient.” At Barringer 25.5% score “proficient,” 0.5% score “advanced proficient;” 74% of kids failed.

Montclair High School offers 25 A.P. courses, including Latin:Vergil, Microeconomics, and Physics C. 22.9% of juniors and seniors participate in the A.P. program. Barringer High School offers 4 A.P. courses; junior and senior participation rate is 4%.

There are 5,705 kids on the rolls in the Montclair Public School System. Their superintendent, Dr. Frank Alvarez, makes $216,083 (at least until his contract is up and he hits the newly superintendent salary cap of $175K for a district of Montclair’s size). There are 38,442 children on the roll at Newark City Public School District. Cami Anderson, the new superintendent makes $240K. (Should there be any correlation between number of kids served and superintendent salary? Maybe yes, maybe no. If you’re counting, Dr. Alvarez makes $38 per kids and Dr. Anderson makes $6 a kid.)

Here’s all the material parents must submit to prove that they legally live in Montclair and not that unnamed outpost. And, yes, it’s true that Montclair does not participate in NJ’s Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, which would allow kids in neighboring districts to apply for empty seats in a more desirable school system. In fact, not a single school district in Essex County participates in the program so it’s unlikely that Newark parents would be otherwise informed.

I suppose you can hardly blame high-achieving Montclair High School, ranked 94th best in the state by NJ Monthly. (Barringer High School is ranked 311th.) No doubt there are parents of Barringer students who would stoop at nothing to cross the Rio Grande to the promised land. Offense is the best defense and all that.

There's a lot of talk of educational equity in the Statehouse, mainly in the context of school aid. That's all worth less than a hill of beans (ha! Mexico reference!) if we can't do better at bridging the divide between Montclair and Newark.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Leftovers

Where to begin? No lazy July in Jersey for followers of NJ’s attempts to reform public education. Take the feud between Senate President Sweeney and Gov. Chris Christie: how pissed is Sen. Sweeney at the Governor for rejecting Democratic legislators' attempt to fully fund the school funding formula (SFRA)? So pissed that, according to Keith Olbermann, Sweeney "“unleashed thirteen epithets at the conservative darling, only twelve of which we can even mention fully here.” More concretely Sweeney told the Star-Ledger that Christie is "a rotten prick."

Politics is such an erudite occupation in the Garden State.

In an interview with The Record, Sen. Sweeney suggested that Gov. Christie's motivation in not fulling funding SFRA is to provoke suburban school districts to sue the State for not receiving their legislated state aid. Then, according to this scenario, a newly configured Supreme Court will reverse its earlier decision to uphold the school funding formula.

Kabuki theater or genuine outrage? Patrick Murray concludes that “while Steve Sweeney firmly believes in the education reforms that sit on his legislative docket, he now has little political or personal incentive to move them forward. If he doesn’t, the big political loser in this dust-up may ultimately be Chris Christie.” Meanwhile Sen. Sweeney told Tom Moran of the Star-Ledger that bills for teacher merit pay and reforms to seniority are "dead on arrival."

But he also told the Star-Ledger that he "won’t call a vote on a bill to require local voters to approve charter schools, which Christie opposes, because it would "'absolutely shut down charter schools.'"

Moving right along, NJ Spotlight scored a big interview with Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, who confirms that she will refuse to bring the Opportunity Scholarship Act, the voucher bill, to the Assembly floor for a vote. She also echoed Senator Sweeney in deriding part of Gov. Christie’s education reform platform: "I don’t believe it’s about tenure reform or all the other ideas being thrown out there," she said. "That still won’t get to the core of how do we serve at-risk kids."

In spite of the dust-ups, the Governor’s Education Transformation Task Force will hold its public hearings tomorrow and Tuesday to hear stakeholders’ opinions on teacher evaluations and tenure.

Ray Broach, Superintendent of Trenton Public Schools, is reconfiguring school space for the buildings that have failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress for years. Reports the Trenton Times,
While district officials are hoping that the restructuring, which was formally approved by the school board last month, will reinvigorate perennially struggling schools, some worry that, unless coupled with substantive changes to curriculum, the initiative will serve only to take bad teachers out of one school and put them in another.
The new anti-bullying policies for public schools issued by the DOE, reports the Press of Atlantic City, are confounding to local school boards and administrators. The requirements are confusing, the promised support isn’t there, and “the potential workload brought on by the new regulations could inundate schools, which in many cases are operating on leaner staffs than they were a few years ago.”

Mark Zuckerberg, who made a $100 million donation to the Newark Public Schools, met Friday with Mayor Cory Booker and Chris Christie.

The Star-Ledger
reports on home-schooling in NJ which, according to Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf, remains “a wildly unregulated area.” For example, about 200 kids receive instruction from a website called Conservapedia, which teaches them that “modern kangaroos are descended from two ancestors on Noah’s Ark," "public schools make homosexuals," and "atheists tend to be fat, and obesity impairs brain function."

Neil Brown, a former social studies teacher, says that NJ’s HSPA, the high school proficiency test, is “ an absolute fraud and an abject failure in meeting its putative objectives” and should be replaced with a sort of citizenship test.

Correction: Steve Sweeney's remarks about not calling a vote on the bill requiring a public vote on a new charter school did not come from Tom Moran's piece. It's here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Paging Charter School Fact-Checker, Please

In today’s Star-Ledger Bob Braun allows himself to be led by the nose as he swoons under the thrall of the anti-voucher and anti-charter school lobbying group Save Our Schools-NJ. Maybe the heat on this hot Thursday is getting to him. Or maybe the fact-checker at the Ledger is on vacation. No matter. Happy to step up.

Here are a few corrections.
  • Braun’s description of the various bills associated with school choice as “the school privatization wars” is either deliberately obtuse or just plain ignorant. Charter schools, for anyone who’s counting, are public schools, subject to oversight from the DOE and (according to one of those bills just passed by the Assembly) charged with complying with regulations written for, well, all the other public schools out there.
There are some differences, of course: charter schools don’t get any state help with facilities and don’t receive the full per pupil cost. (The traditional districts keeps at least 10%. For what? Shipping and handling? Is NJN being taken over by QVC?)

Other differences include no requirement that charter schools hire unionized teachers, or comply with other state statutes like closing schools down for two days in the beginning of November so that teachers can go to the NJEA convention in Atlantic City (or not). Perhaps that accounts for SOS-NJ's affiliation with NEA.
  • Braun quotes a spokeswoman for SOS-NJ, who tells him, "New Jersey is the only state in the country that sets no limits on the number of new charter schools, leaves local communities completely out of the decision-making process regarding which new charter schools get authorized, and yet expects the funding for those schools to come out of local public school budgets."
Really? We're the only state without a charter school cap? Here’s a list for your edification. While there are some states with caps – Alaska, for instance, no doubt a governance we all aspire to – many states have none. While we’re in fact-checking mode, note that the only other state in our glorious union that subjects new charters to a community vote is New Hampshire. And funding for charter schools in every state that has them comes from local tax dollars, just like regular public schools.
  • Braun then takes note of “the reform’s success in the Assembly.” By that he means, I suppose, that the Assembly passed the package of four bills. That may have less to do with Assembly expediency and more to do with poor reading skills or a high tolerance for lack of logic. For example, one of the four bills (a fine bill, by the way) allows the State DOE to appoint up to three colleges or universities who will have the say-so on which charters get a thumbs-up. But hold that thought: another bill in the 4-part package subjects each charter to a local vote. This means that an aspiring charter school must now mount a marketing campaign to combat efforts by the local traditional district (loathe to lose tuition) and the local chapter of the NJEA (loathe to lose unionized jobs). Fair? You tell me.
No bill specifies who pays for the special election. Maybe we get to vote on that too.
  • But wait, there’s more. Braun writes,
The most significant victory of anti-privatization forces, however, did not occur in the Legislature. A recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll found overwhelming support — a 73 percent to 23 percent margin — for local control of charter school spending. It showed Republicans and Democrats alike, urban and suburban, residents with children at home and without, men and women — all believe local residents should vote on whether they want to divert money from local school budgets to support charter schools.
That Rutgers-Eagleton poll, by the way, canvassed a grand total of 386 people. Were charter schools defined by the canvassers as “those blood-sucking arthropods that leech money and brains from the bank accounts of helpless school districts?” Unclear to me, or at least as unclear as whether 386 people is a representative sampling of our great and populous state.

There's been a lot of heat generated by NJ's struggle to resolve competing interests within these charter school squabbles. At the very least, let's keep our facts straight.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

More Money for Non-Abbotts, At Least for 2012

New Jersey School Boards Association reports that the additional $150 million in the State Budget for education that wasn't vetoed by Gov. Christie will be divided among suburban districts so "that each school district recovers at least two-fifths of the state aid cut it experienced in 2010-2011."

Abbotts will get the additional $446.9 million ordered by the State Supreme Court to fully fund NJ's school funding formula for the 2011-2012 school year. However non-Abbotts will most likely be instructed to save their additional state aid for the 2012-2013 school year:

[C]urrent state law would require that each school district treat its share of the $150 million aid increase as unanticipated revenue. That designation would apply because school budgets have been set and local property tax levies have been struck.

If such statute applies, it would restrict the spending of the additional aid during the current school year and would generally reserve the new funds for property tax relief in 2012-2013.

NEA Takes a Step Forward; Will NJEA?

Today’s Wall St. Journal ponders two newsworthy items that emerged at this week’s National Education Association Annual Meeting and National Assembly in Chicago. First, the delegates, who represent 3.2 million teachers and support staff, endorsed President Obama for the 2012 election. Second, the delegates agreed to a policy statement that concedes that student learning should be part of teacher evaluations. From the Journal:
Credit here goes less to the NEA than to the laws of political gravity. Teachers unions have never been in such bad odor with the public. More than a dozen states are incorporating test scores in teacher evaluations as part of Education Secretary Arne Duncan's Race to the Top program.

The NEA's calculus seems to have been driven chiefly by fear of becoming politically irrelevant, which is probably also why they rushed their endorsement of President Obama's 2012 re-election—more than a year before the GOP ticket is even nominated. But it speaks volumes about NEA priorities that only under historic pressure would its members even concede that their jobs have anything to do with student achievement.
Ouch. A bit harsh. NEA deserves credit for taking a proactive stance, although its leaders may have lost a few fans among the membership. Here, for example, is a new facebook page entitled “NEA Members And Supporters Opposed To The Obama Endorsement.”

(Sadly, the delegates also approved a policy that accuses Teach for America corps members of stealing jobs from other teachers and instructs members to “publicly oppose contracts with TFA." Pretty short-sighted. Shouldn't the great and magnanimous NEA support a new source of dedicated young teachers into its ranks? Almost all TFA members are assigned to high-poverty schools that struggle to retain qualified teachers and about 60% of the TFA corps remain in education after their two-year term is up. Stephen Sawchuk of Edweek has a response from TFA spokeswoman Carrie James.)

Anyway, kudos to the national union's concession that, in one form or another, student longitudinal growth will play a part in measuring teacher effectiveness. Will NJEA, the New Jersey branch of NEA, fall in line? NJEA President Barbara Keshishian may have to moderate her stance:
We believe student test scores have a place in the evaluation process,” said NJEA President Barbara Keshishian, “but we also agree with highly regarded researchers that they should not play a determining role in high-stakes personnel decisions. There are a lot of flashing yellow lights suggesting policymakers should proceed with caution before putting too much emphasis on test score improvement.”
Then again, moderation has never been a virtue aspired to by NJEA. Its reputation as one of the more militant branches of the NEA may remain intact.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

NJ Channels NH in Charter School Laws

There’s two good pieces on charter schools in the papers today: John Mooney in NJ Spotlight looks at the tiny charter school office at the DOE, charged with approving or rejecting applicants who aspire to start these autonomous public schools. And the Asbury Park Press examines the current battle between Save Our Schools-NJ, which is lobbying hard for a new charter school bill that would subject every new charter to a community vote, and charter school advocates like Carlos Perez of the NJ Charter School Association, who view these new bills as both redundant and a thinly-veiled attempt to curtail charter school growth. Explains Perez,
“If a charter school doesn’t have enough enrollment, it can’t open its doors,” he said. “Charter schools are created to fill a void in the traditional public school curriculum. They’re established to meet some specific need — a more diverse math program, more sophisticated science courses, cultural and language immersion, environment-centered studies — that is not being met by other schools in the district. If a significant number of parents don’t think a void exists, the local effort to form a school would go nowhere.”
The Asbury Park Press piece notes that among the 39 states in the country that have charter schools, only one – New Hampshire – requires a public vote for a new charter school approval. That requirement is part of the reason that New Hampshire received a “D” from the Center for Education Reform for its charter school laws. NH's total public school enrollment is 194,022. Out of almost 200,000 students, only 816 attend charter schools. From the Nashua Telegraph:
Despite the movement up the list over the past year, New Hampshire remains one of nine states that “severely constrains charter school growth,” according to Todd Ziebarth, lead author of the report “Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws.” The report analyzed the country’s 41 state charter school laws and scored how well it believed they allowed for quality and growth.

“New Hampshire’s law needs significant improvements in several areas, most immediately removing the pilot nature of the program,” Ziebarth wrote. “The state also needs to ensure equitable operational and categorical funding, provide equitable access to capital funding and facilities, and provide additional authorizing options for charter applicants.”
If our role model for effective charter school laws is New Hampshire, maybe we ought to aim a little higher.

Quote of the Day

Catching up to the reality already faced by many of its members, the nation’s largest teachers’ union on Monday affirmed for the first time that evidence of student learning must be considered in the evaluations of school teachers around the country.

In passing the new policy at its assembly here, the 3.2 million-member union, the National Education Association, hopes to take a leadership role in the growing national movement to hold teachers accountable for what students learn — an effort from which it has so far conspicuously stood apart.

But blunting the policy’s potential impact, the union also made clear that it continued to oppose the use of existing standardized test scores to judge teachers, a core part of the federally backed teacher evaluation overhauls already under way in at least 15 states.

Today's New York Times.

NJ's Voucher Bill on "Life Support"

Today's Star-Ledger has the political backstory on the fragile state of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, otherwise known as the voucher bill. While advocates had been optimistic about its chances of making it through the Assembly, Speaker Sheila Oliver backed away at the last minute. Chock it up to the acrimony engendered by the passage of pension and health benefits reform. Democrats felt they had given enough, and alienated too many voters in the process.

Explains the Ledger,
The episodes involving vouchers and wineries show how Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) has struggled to balance competing relationships with the power brokers that greased her political rise and the restless Democrats within her own caucus. And they reveal how controversial cuts to public worker benefits cast a long shadow on the Statehouse, altering the political landscape and shifting unrelated issues off track.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sunday Leftovers

Reverend Reginald Jackson, head of the Black Ministers Council, bemoans the postponement of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, the voucher bill:
I understand that most of our children will always attend the public schools, but I also know and see that many of our urban public schools are failing our children. The past few weeks, we have given diplomas to thousands upon thousands of low-income and minority children, even though they don’t have an education.

What makes this debacle so sad is that the ones delaying, postponing and stalling action on the OSA are minority legislators. Those who represent low-income and minority students — of whom 50 percent don’t graduate — and many of whom get diplomas but won’t be able to get a job, or will go to college far behind their peers. The inaction and opposition of these legislators give other legislators cover for not acting, for if the same thing was happening to children in their districts, it would be a state of emergency. In low-income and minority districts, it’s just the norm and they are not alarmed.
The Asbury Park Press looks at the effects of budget cuts on local school districts.

Tom Moran argues that the local union heads’ conviction that decisions about health benefits and pension contributions should take place at the bargaining table – that Sen. Steve Sweeney exercised a fundamental betrayal of his union roots – is wrong-headed. Pension benefits are already set by law, and the health benefits rules sunset after four years. Besides, the result “is a good and fair outcome. And it would not have happened at the bargaining table.”

While Gov. Christie vetoed Democratic legislators’ plans to budget an additional $600 million to suburban school districts, he’s left enough in so that each non-Abbott district should get about 1% of its overall budget. See NJ Spotlight.

The numbers from PolitickerNJ: "The Democrats wrote nearly $365 million in revenue into the budget that the administration did not certify, and included $190 million in surplus that Christie removed. They also inserted $300 million that Christie initially put in his budget from savings achieved with pension and benefits reform, even though new estimates project closer to $10 million in savings. Christie cut $900 million from the Democrats' budget and vetoed another $400 million."

Trenton Community Charter School, slated for closure by the DOE, has won a stay ordered by an appellate court judge. According to the Trenton Times, the school says that the state ignored a June 6 Collaborative Assessment and Planning for Achievement report which showed significant progress.

Thousands of kids are getting free or reduced-cost lunches in school but they’re not technically eligible for the program, reports the Press of Atlantic City.

While appeals by public unions in Minnesota and Colorado to overturn legislated pension and benefits reform have been unsuccessful, , NJEA Spokesman Steve Baker tells the Courier-Post that NJEA will file lawsuits anyway.

NJ Spotlight looks at the DOE pilot program where student academic growth is tied to teacher evaluations. DOE Special Assistant Andy Smarick hosted a meeting among 70 interested school districts and remarked, ""We are asking districts to work with teachers and other stakeholders because we want this as robust as possible," he said. "I talked about partnerships more than anything else."

Andrew Rotherham in Time Magazine asks whether tenure for college professors should be abolished.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Quote of the Day

David Brooks in today's New York Times considers the views of educational historian Diane Ravitch, once one of “the leading intellects behind the education reform movement” and now “its most vehement critic.” On the one hand Brooks looks dimly on Ravitch’s adoption of “the party-line view of the most change-averse elements of the teachers’ unions: There is no education crisis. Poverty is the real issue, not bad schools. We don’t need fundamental reform; we mainly need to give teachers more money and job security.”

On the other hand, Ravitch is right to point to the “inherent tension” in teaching between the human and the mechanistic, between educating and testing. And it’s easy to overemphasize testing. However,
The places where the corrosive testing incentives have had their worst effect are not in the schools associated with the reformers. They are in the schools the reformers haven’t touched. These are the mediocre schools without strong leaders and without vibrant missions. In those places, of course, the teaching-to-the-test ethos prevails. There is no other.

The reform movement is most famous for tests and assessments. But the untrumpeted and undeveloped secret of the reform movement is the content — the willingness to develop character curriculum or Core Knowledge curriculum, the willingness to infuse the school with spiritual fervor.